Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the election outcomes

November 28th, 2011

Well, at least the election has pinpointed the site of Labour’s Last Stand – on Saturday night, south Auckland was almost the only place in the country where Labour grew its party vote. Elsewhere, and in former Labour strongholds like West Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch, even Labour’s successful electoral candidates still saw the party vote go to National.

Incredibly, this included in Jim Anderton’s old seat of Wigram, which went blue on the party vote. In tried and true tribal form, Labour now appears to be turning in on itself as the battle shapes up to replace Phil Goff as leader.

Rather than pick the leader most likely to defeat John Key, the factions within the parliamentary party seem hellbent on picking the candidate adjudged to be at blame for Labour’s debacle on Saturday. Which rat fink stabbed Phil in the back? (It had to be someone, right?) It is a truly bizarre way of thinking but David Cunliffe – never a caucus favourite – is reportedly copping the blame for not supporting Phil Goff enough.

Outside the fishbowl of the Labour Party caucus, that will seem a very strange accusation. To the general public, Cunliffe seemed the only Labour politician mounting any attack on National that had any teeth. Instead, the empty ritualistic claims of fealty to the fallen leader – like David Parker on Saturday night loudly declaiming “I’m bloody proud of Phil Goff!’ – seem to carry more weight.

Perhaps those pushing Parker’s cause could be asked to identify one thing Parker did publicly this year that helped Labour win more votes on Saturday night. In Epsom in 2008 for instance, Kate Sutton had run what was deemed to be a lacklustre campaign yet still won 20% of the party vote for Labour. On Saturday night, Parker’s high profile campaign in Epsom won only 15% of the party vote. Hardly a resounding success if… you know, if Labour really is looking for evidence that Parker-as-leader could win them more votes.

[Cunliffe did little better. In 2008, Labour scraped home in Cunliffe’s New Lynn electorate only 60 votes ahead of National on the party vote; on Saturday night, Labour ended up in New Lynn over 1,000 votes behind National on the party vote.]

What the centre left would like Labour to do is stop the internecine bitching and pick the team best able to win the next election. On form displayed this year, that would have to be Cunliffe as leader, Parker as deputy. Not much chance of that, on current settings.

The other party with major leadership problems right now is of course, the Act Party. With karmic irony, the party of libertarian idealism has now saddled itself with a conservative – as in state corporatist – party machine hack as its public face and champion in Parliament. Good luck with that. While the outcome in Epsom was good for John Key and good for John Banks, the tea party that clinched the deal was fatal for Act’s niche appeal anywhere else in the country.

Even in Wellington Central, Act’s Stephen Whittington ran a solid campaign for the party vote based on Act’s original values – yet ended up with almost the same number of electorate votes on the night (317) as party votes (360) out of 31, 475 votes cast, or 1.14% of the total.

While the Banks/Epsom deal keeps the Act Party on artificial life support, the party of self reliance cannot ever hope to thrive until it can earn its own way in the world. For that reason, it would perhaps have been better for Act to have lost Epsom. At least then it could have begun afresh under the likes of Whittington and David Seymour and pitched itself anew to the Randian idealists out there on campus. That difficult path would, at least, have some honour to it.

Act’s problems were mirrored quite eerily on the left by the Mana Party, which failed to ignite. Earlier this year, I wrote a column arguing that Hone should hold back and spend the year promoting himself in Te Tai Tokerau as the lone Maori holdout against the Maori Party’s collusion with National – and then use that platform to launch his own party in the second term in the face of the carnage from welfare reform and asset sales. Saturday night’s results vindicated that argument.

Because the Mana Party succeeded only in preventing Labour from toppling Pita Sharples in Tamaki Makaurau, weakened Harawira’s grip on his home base in Te Tai Tokerau and got no extra seats from the exercise for its troubles. Still, there’s no turning back for Harawira now.

The Greens did well in crossing the 10% threshold that it had defined as its goal at the campaign outset – but without reaching the heights that had once seemed tantalisingly possible. As its co-leader Metiria Turei has already said, it may be difficult for the Greens to find grounds on which to advance its cause during National’s second term.

On Saturday night, Prime Minister John Key signalled that the environment would be the only likely area where the two parties could possibly co-operate. Well, in a press release a week before the election, the Greens claimed “water” to be the key environmental issue of this election, and that it had a three part plan to fix the problems.

1) Set standards for clean water and intensive agriculture;

2) Introduce a fair charge for irrigation water and;

3) Support water clean-up initiatives.

“Our standards for clean water will require stock exclusion from rivers and lakes within five years. Planting riverbanks and excluding stock from waterways has been shown to significantly improve water quality within three years,” said Dr Norman.

Give that the “fair charge” would cost farmers some $370 $570 million per year, that part of the plan won’t be a goer for National. But a watered down version of the plan (sorry) could be worthwhile for the Greens to put on the table for discussion, both as an environmental issue and as a job creation project. Among the Greens intake, Jan Logie and Holly Walker appear the likely strongest performers among the new MPs.

New Zealand First In 2002, the intake of United Future MPs that came in with that nice, moderate Peter Dunne proved to be a bunch of evangelical crazies who were anything BUT moderate. Peters’ platoon this time includes known quantities like former MP Barbara Stewart, former North Shore mayor Andrew Williams, former TVNZ weather presenter Brendan Horan and former Democrats for Social Credit candidate Richard Prosser – whose most recent column for Investigate magazine toyed with making it mandatory for taxi drivers to carry Walther pistols, and made the case for dairy owners to be packing shotguns. At the 2008 election, Prosser had also floated the idea of letting the South Island have its own Parliament.

No such wackiness from the Maori Party, who can be relied on during this second term to stay firmly on message. On some of the important issues – such as asset sales – that message will involve lining up with those iwi flush with funds (e.g., Tainui, Ngai Tahu) who wish to buy into the state assets being put on the auction block. Conversely, on welfare reform the Maori Party will be backing National’s plans to crack down on the conditions for receiving welfare benefits. In other words, it will quickly become clear which side of the have/have nots divide in Maoridom that the Maori Party intends to stand upon, and Peters can be expected to be competing with Harawira for media space to criticise them for doing so.

Somehow, the Maori Party will have to find ways to deliver for its poorest constituents on jobs, jobs, jobs – and surely, at something better than the current minimum wage. It will have its work cut out. Especially since Sharples and Tariana Turia will both be retiring before the next election, and others will be left to cope with the collateral damage suffered by the party from its collusion with National.

Finally: the special votes. This year, they are a massive 240,000 in number, or some 10% of the total votes cast. Most commentators are picking – on past performance – for the Greens to pick up one extra seat and National to lose one seat, once the specials are finally tallied. Among the unknowns are the large numbers of Christchurch specials – with the question being raised by Anita at Kiwipolitico as to whether these voters displaced by the quake will be wealthier Cantabrians voting out of town (and voting centre right) or poorer Christchurch residents voting centre left.

The one bright spot for the centre left on Saturday night was the survival of MMP – although the shonkiness of the whole affair was underlined by the fact that informals (34%) topped FPP (32%) as the most popular alternative system, in the second part of the referendum. Clearly, many MMP supporters either put all their eggs in the one basket of MMP winning the contest outright, or (more likely) didn’t realise the possible importance of voting in the second part. Clear heads seem in pretty short supply on the centre left right now.

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